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Labour have promised to create 100,000 extra dental appointments for children, in a bid to clear backlogs in England.

The new appointments will be for urgent and emergency care and on evenings and weekends, according to Labour’s plan if they win the general election.

Access to an NHS dentist has become increasingly difficult in many areas – with tooth decay the most common reason children aged five to nine are admitted to hospital.

The Conservatives have their own “dental recovery plan”, which was launched earlier this year and offers dentists cash incentives to take on extra NHS patients.

Labour’s plans, announced on Tuesday, also include a plan to introduce supervised brushing for children, double the number of NHS scanners and reform dentists’ contracts to boost numbers where they are needed.

The £109m pledge will be paid for by tightening up non-dom tax rules and clamping down on tax avoidance, Labour said.

Data published in February showed thousands of children and teenagers were being admitted to hospital for tooth decay treatment.

There were nearly 48,000 tooth extractions in NHS hospitals in England for patients aged up to 9 carried out in 2023. Two thirds of these were because of a primary diagnosis of tooth decay – up 17% from the previous 12 months.

Childhood tooth extractions cost NHS hospitals £64.3m last year, with decay-related extractions making up £40.7m of this.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting will unveil Labour’s “Child Health Action Plan” as part of an election-campaign stop in the North East of England on Tuesday.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Streeting said Labour’s plans would help “put a smile back on kids’ faces”.

“What a tragic indictment on the state of NHS dentistry under the Conservatives, that children are ashamed to speak because of the state of their teeth,” he said, citing a survey of 11-year-olds.

Mr Streeting told the BBC’s Breakfast programme that the party was seeking to take preventative action with children’s overall health, including dentistry.

Labour claim the “crisis in NHS dentistry under the Conservatives” has led to 540,000 fewer children seeing a dentist last year than in 2018.

That figure is broadly correct, according to the most recent NHS data. In the year to 30 June 2023, 6,372,892 children were seen by a dentist – down from 6,953,916 in the year to 31 December 2018.

But according to analysis by BBC Verify, these numbers have been steadily recovering since 2021 – after falling significantly during the pandemic.

The Conservative Party has claimed their dental plan has already resulted in 500 additional practices opening their doors to NHS patients, and created an extra 2.5 million NHS appointments in 2024.

The Liberal Democrats plan to introduce an emergency scheme guaranteeing free check-ups for children, young mothers, those who are pregnant and on low incomes. The party also said it would fix the NHS dental contract to bring dentists back from the private sector.

The Green Party plans to put £50bn into health and social care, including giving everyone access to an NHS dentist. It plans to reform the contract and pay for it all by increasing tax rates for the rich.

The Reform Party has not yet released its manifesto.



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